“So what time do you want to meet on Saturday?”
“Same time, Mr. W. I wasn’t expecting to hear from you. What made you-“
I show up, same spot, same time, same tiny man in Wayfarers standing at the entrance.
The walls were lower now. For hours, he told me stories about his childhood, about standing in front of Paramount at three years-old dancing for the executives that walked in and out of the front gate. He told me how his parents would lock him in a closet. He spoke of abuse both at home and on the set. Back then child protection laws did not exist on films. He told me that his mentors were Bogart and Mitchum, how Brando and he despised each other, and how for a long time he was on dope and angry. And I realized that I heard all of this before.
Mr. W had told all these stories before in interviews. I realized then that he was indeed a very good actor which later made me question every single maneuver he made with me.
After breakfast we drove to Beverly Hills while he reminisced about his early days in Hollywood. As we drove by a park where a young family played with their little daughter, Mr. W slowed down and watched with near tears welling up in his eyes. He screamed at cars that honked at him. He was not going to let anything come in the way of this moment.
We continued on through L.A. looking for garage sales. You see, Mr. W lost a very large civil lawsuit and he is broke. Zilch. Mr. W lost or sold everything that he owned, but he’d occasionally pick up a new piece of treasure at a yard sale.
If he didn’t sell it or lose it, then he gave it away. He explained how he gave a complete stranger his guitar that he used in both his Oscar-nominated film and hit TV show. I asked him why he did that.
“What’s the point of holding onto these things that once I’m dead and gone, people are going to fight over? This way somebody who really appreciates it will hold onto it and cherish it.”
“People” meant his family. He wouldn’t refer to his children as family. He told me in the beginning that he had no children, when in fact he had three.
He gave away his Emmys, his scripts, and his film and television mementos.
And when I entered his apartment, I saw that he indeed had nothing. A couch to sit on, a bed to sleep on, a TV to watch, and some gym equipment he fastened together from trash, were all the large pieces he had.
For character, cowboy boots, cowboy shirts, and cowboy hats hung up on the walls.
There was only one sign that a man who once had money, fame, a family, and legions of people who looked up to him lived there. All over the apartment were pictures of the former Mr. W. Young Mr. W. Smiling Mr. W. Handsome Mr. W. All before the switch was flipped. I was drawn into the photos. I couldn’t stop staring at him. Who is this strapping, vivacious young man in the picture and who is that frail, sad, old man sitting on the couch?
To be continued…